One-Minute Book Reviews

June 9, 2009

Poet Mary Jo Salter Remembers TWA Flight 800, an Airline Disaster That Occurred 13 Years before Air France Flight 447 Crashed

Filed under: News,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:58 pm
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On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 took off from John F. Kennedy Airport en route to Rome via Paris and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean over Long Island en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TWA_Flight_800. All 230 passengers and crew members on board died in the disaster, which the National Transportation Safety Board concluded had probably resulted from a fuel tank explosion caused by faulty wiring.

Mary Jo Salter remembers the tragedy in “TWA 800,” collected in her Open Shutters and A Phone Call to the Future. In this brief poem Salter recalls that, months after the accident, friends of hers in France got a postcard from her that had ended up on the flight. “Sea-soaked but intact,” the card was fully legible: “Shipped in a padded bag, with a letter / from the U.S. Postal Service (‘apologies / for any inconvenience caused / by the accident’).”

To read the entire poem “TWA 800,” go to the Amazon listing for A Phone Call to the Future and use the “Search Inside” tool to search for “TWA 800.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 27, 2009

‘Books, What a Jolly Company They Are’ – Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Repression of War Experience’ – Quote of the Day / Maureen Corrigan

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:42 pm
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How much comfort can books offer as the death toll rises in Iraq and Afghanistan? Maureen Corrigan responds indirectly in her memoir, Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (Vintage, 240 pp., $14.95, paperback):

A book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air, Corrigan begins a chapter with the line “Books, what a jolly company they are,” by the English poet Siegfried Sassoon, who saw combat on Western Front in World War I. She adds:

“The line is from Siegfried Sassoon’s great 1918 poem, ‘Repression of War Experience,’ and it’s meant to be taken, at best, ambivalently. The poem is written in the form of a dramatic monologue, and the narrator is a World War I vet suffering from shell shock. He’s been shipped away to a rest home in the English countryside, but judging from his off-kilter observations, his prognosis looks bleak. The vet sees ghosts out in the wet darkness of the nearby forest and hears the thud of big guns, booming, booming in the distance. Presumably, he’s sitting in a library as he speaks, because he turns for comfort to the shelves of books nearby. Unfortunately, their black, white, brown, and green spines remind him of his once straight-backed comrades marching off to their deaths. Shaken, the narrator tries to get a grip on his nerves by reassuring himself that ‘all the wisdom of the world / Is waiting for you on those shelves,’ but it’s a claim that rings hollow. Book learning didn’t save a generation of young Oxbridge students from dying in the trenches, along with their shabbily educated working-class countrymen. Indeed, some of those books – filled with tales of chivalric adventure and noble sacrifice – misled their impressionable readers into their wartime deaths.

“I can’t imagine living in rooms without books, but like Sassoon’s narrator, I also think the comfort books offer is qualified. All those voices, all those thoughts, all those reminders of how much there is to read and how little time there is to read it. Mentally and physically, books can be oppressive, even hazardous.”

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May 16, 2009

Good Clean Limericks for Children – Poems for 1st, 2nd and 3rd Graders

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!—

From a classic nonsense limerick by Edward Lear

Anyone who wants to encourage a child to read poetry should memorize three good limericks — stopping just short of any that begin, “There was a young girl from Nantucket” — and recite them regularly. Limericks have five rhyming lines and a bouncy rhythm that makes them easy to remember. So children tend to absorb them effortlessly if they hear them often.

The question is: Where can you find the clean ones? True limericks are always bawdy, some critics say. When they aren’t scatological, they may include double-entendres or other risqué elements. Many limericks on the Web are also plagiarized — it’s generally illegal to quote an entire five-line poem by a living or not-long-dead poet even if you credit the author — and could cause trouble for children who quote them in school reports.

But the Academy of American Poets has posted several out-of-copyright classics by Edward Lear (1812––1888), author of “The Owl and the Pussy Cat,” at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16814, including:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!–
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!”

The academy also offers facts about the rhyme and meter of limericks at www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5783. All 112 of the limericks in the 1861 edition of Lear’s A Book of Nonsense appear on a site that abounds with information about his work www.nonsenselit.org.

A good source of limericks for young children is The Hopeful Trout and Other Limericks (Houghton Mifflin, 1989), written by John Ciardi and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh, available in many libraries. This book is used in grades 2 and up in schools. But some of its limericks would also suit younger children. They include “Be Kind to Dumb Animals” (“There once was an ape in a zoo / Who looked out through the bars and saw – YOU!”), which consists only of simple one-syllable words, and “The Halloween House” (“I’m told there’s a Green Thing in there. / And the sign on the gate says BEWARE!”).

Many limericks are mini-morality tales about people who get an amusing, nonsensical comeuppance. The Hopeful Trout has several in this category. “The Poor Boy Was Wrong” describes the unlucky Sid, who “thought that a shark / Would turn tail if you bark,” then swam off to test the premise. Ciardi refers obliquely to Sid’s fate, but any child who isn’t sure what happened needs only look at the drawing grinning shark and a single flipper.

© 2009 Janice Harayda
www.janiceharayda.com

May 11, 2009

‘The Aeneid’ in Three Sentences (Quote of the Day / Robert Fagles)

Filed under: Classics,Poetry,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:08 am
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The problem with book reviewing in America isn’t usually that it’s unfair or inaccurate – it’s that it’s dull. And it’s dull partly because it’s timid. Reviews often tell you almost everything about a novel except what it is really “about” beyond the plot details.

This failing has less to do with dwindling review space and than with declining courage and intellectual confidence. You can express the theme or message of even a complex, multilayered work in a few sentences if you know it well enough. Here’s how the classics scholar Robert Fagles summed up The Aeneid:

“It says that if you depart from the civilized, then you become a murderer. The price of empire is very steep, but Virgil shows how it is to be earned, if it’s to be earned at all. The poem can be read as an exhortation for us to behave ourselves, which is a horse of relevance that ought to be ridden.”

As quoted by Charles McGrath in “Robert Fagles, Translator of the Classics, Dies at 74” in the New York Times, March 29, 2008.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 6, 2009

Late Night With Jan Harayda — Frank Bidart Pulls Further Ahead of Susan Lucci

Filed under: News,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:47 pm
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Back in December, I wrote that Frank Bidart was turning into poetry’s equivalent of Susan Lucci, the soap opera star who lost l8 daytime Emmy awards before winning on her 19th nomination. After decades of work, Bidart is one of America’s most respected poets, but he has never won a National Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize or a National Book Critics Circle Award.

I noted in a review of his latest book that Bidart has written seven poetry collections, and if his publisher nominated each for all three prizes, he passed Lucci in November when he got his 19th snub: He lost the National Book Award for poetry to fellow finalist Mark Doty. He had a chance to win on nominations No. 20 and No. 21 for the most recent NBCC and Pulitzer prizes but didn’t make the shortlist for the critics’ award. And he was a Pulitzer finalist for Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 72 pp., $13, paperback). Did Lucci send a sympathy card?

April 28, 2009

Emily Dickinson, War Poet (Quote of the Day / From Drew Gilpin Faust’s Pulitzer Prize Finalist, ‘This Republic of Suffering’)

Filed under: Poetry,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:53 am
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How did Americans deal with the unprecedented scale of death in the Civil War? Many grappled with the carnage partly by writing about it — in poems, letters, memoirs, sermons, diaries, and more — given a lucid analysis by Drew Gilpin Faust in This Republic of Suffering, a finalist for the most recent National Book Award www.nationalbook.org/nba2008.html and Pulitzer Prize for history www.pulitzer.org/citation/2009-History.

Gilpin Faust writes about Emily Dickinson in this excerpt from a much longer section about Dickinson’s work and that of other writers of the era, including Ambrose Bierce and Herman Melville:

“Emily Dickson is renowned as a poet preoccupied with death. Yet curiously any relationship between her work and the Civil War was long rejected by most literary critics, even though she wrote almost half her oeuvre, at a rate of four poems a week, during those years. Dickinson has been portrayed as a recluse, closeted from the real world and its tribulations. But her work is filled with the language of battle – the very vocabulary of war that she would have encountered in the four newspapers regularly delivered to the Dickinson household. Campaigns, cannons, rifle balls, bullets, artillery, soldiers, ammunition, flags, bayonets, cavalry, drums, and trumpets are recurrent images in her poetry.”

Gilpin Faust adds:

“Like so many reflective Americas of her time, she grappled with the contractions of spirit and matter and with their implications for heaven and for God. Death seemed ‘a Dialogue between the Spirit and the Dust,’ an argument left painfully unresolved. Dickinson wondered where she might find heaven (‘I’m knocking everywhere’) and what an afterlife might be (‘Is Heaven a place—a Sky—a Tree?’) …..

“Ironically, it was death, not life, that seemed eternal, for it ‘perishes—to live anew … Annihilation—plated fresh / With Immortality.’ No territorial justifications, no military or political purposes balance this loss; victory cannot compensate; it ‘comes late’ to those already dead, whose ‘freezing lips’ are ‘too rapt with frost / to take it.’ Dickinson permits herself no relief or escape into either easy transcendence or sentimentality.”

You might also want to read the Oct. 4, 2007, post, “Do Emily Dickinson’s Poems ‘Make a Virtue Out of Collapsing’?” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/04/.

© 2009 Janice Harayda

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

March 17, 2009

‘Passive suffering is not a theme for poetry’ (Quote of the Day / W. B. Yeats)

Members of an isolated British reading group write letters about their favorite books in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Dial, 2008), a bestselling novel set mainly on a Channel Island in 1946. But one character rages against William Butler Yeats, the Irish Nobel laureate. The complaint: Yeats edited The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892–1935 and said in its introduction that he had left out all the great World War I poets, including Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, because

“ … passive suffering is not a theme for poetry.”

This well-known quote was controversial from the start. But it suggests how much poetry has changed: Many recent collections, such as Frances Richey’s The Warrior and Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy, include poems that involve “passive suffering.”

What do you think of the change? Does poetry need less passive suffering and more active engagement with life? Or are modern poets proving that Yeats was wrong?

Read Yeats’s full quote and more on The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892–1935 www.english.emory.edu/LostPoets/Yeats.html.

A review of and reading group guide to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society appeared on this site on Nov. 25, 2008 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/. A review of The Warrior was posted on July 27 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/ and of Elegy on March 10 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/03/10/.

nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1923/yeats-bio.html

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 5, 2009

Muriel Spark Satirizes Bad Writing in Her Poem ‘The Creative Writing Class’

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:56 am
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“Read this!” the critic emoted. “You’ll like it!” she opined. “And laugh!” she chortled.

Muriel Spark is better known for her novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie than for her light verse. But the 73 poems in All the Poems of Muriel Spark (New Directions, 2004) show how well she mastered this and other forms of poetry.

In “The Creative Writing Class,” Spark satirizes the pretentious overwriting often found in the work of bad novelists, amateur poets, and students in MFA programs. This 20-line dialogue poem begins: “’There is,’ he declared. / ‘Really?’ she grinned. / ‘Undoubtedly,’ he stated. / ‘Tomorrow,’ she burbled.” The poem goes on in the same vein, with an alternating male and female voice, through a last line that suggests the frustration of a teacher who has had enough: “‘Silence!’ she sneered.”

Each line in the poem ends with a word ending in “ed” (a variation on the device known as epistrophe, the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of a line). And “The Creative Writing Class” could be a great poem to read aloud in a writing class: Students with a flair for drama could raise this one to a much higher level of hilarity even than it has on the page.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 19, 2009

The Myriad Reasons Not to Eschew Anthony Thwaite’s Witty Send-Up of the Rules for Writing in ‘A Move in the Weather’

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:44 am
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Poems about poetry are often a sign that a poet is running out of gas. Two irresistible exceptions appear in A Move in the Weather (Enitharmon, 2003) by the British poet Anthony Thwaite, co-executor of the estate of Philip Larkin.

The first poem — ironically titled “Untitled” — wonders why writers so often fail to write the great works they believe they have in them. It concludes: “You know how it goes, you even know the title, / But an act of making / Is an act of breaking.”

The second poem is even better. “The Art of Poetry: Two Lessons” sends up the unofficial rules of writing poetry in a pair of sonnets that break the rules for the rhyme, meter, structure and development of sonnets. The first “lesson” begins:

Write in short sentences. Avoid
Unnecessary breaks. Strictly control
(Or totally eliminate) the adverb.
Eschew such words as “myriad” ….

These poems work partly because of their wit and because they are about more than poetry. Isn’t every “act of making” — in life as in literature — also an “act of breaking”? And Thwaite satirizes the rules imposed on all kinds of writers, not just poets. In the first sentence of this post, I broke a rule that journalism students defy at their peril: Don’t use the same noun or variations on it three times in a sentence. Some of their professors would say I should also have killed that cliché “running out of gas” and that “even” in the third paragraph. If you’ve read this far, doesn’t that tell you something about whether Thwaite is on the right track?

Read more about Thwaite and hear him read at the Poetry Archive www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoet.do?poetId=36.

A Move in the Weather is available from the Poetry Bookshop Online www.poetrybookshoponline.co.uk/book-template.asp?isbn=1900564580.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

February 13, 2009

Valentine’s Day Poems for Straight or Gay Lovers, Including Couples Getting Engaged or Married on Feb.14, With All the Words Online

Two poems that aren’t usually thought of as Valentine’s Day poems contain lines that would suit longtime lovers, including engaged and married couples.

Robert Browning’s classic “Rabbi Ben Ezra” begins:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:

“Rabbi Ben Ezra” isn’t a love poem but a meditation in verse on the life of the 12th-century scholar in its title. But countless lovers have inscribed its famous first two lines, both written in iambic trimeter, onto the flyleaves of books or Valentine’s Day notes and cards. And all three would work for straight or gay couples. The full text of the poem appears online at Bartleby.com.

Another classic with lines that would suit gay or straight couples is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s translation from the German of Simon Dach’s “Annie of Tharaw.” It includes the rhyming couplets:

Oppression, and sickness, and sorrow, and pain,
Shall be to our true love as links to the chain.

As the palm-tree standeth so straight and so tall,
The more the hail beats, and the more the rains fall, –

So love in our hearts shall grow mighty and strong,
Through crosses, through sorrows, through manifold wrong …

Though forests I’ll follow, and where the sea flows,
Through ice, and through iron, through armies of foes.

“Annie of Tharaw” sounds less sophisticated than many contemporary poems, in part because of its anapestic meter, commonly found in children’s poems such as “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” But Dach’s words may speak more directly than some of their modern counterparts to couples facing serious illnesses such as AIDS. Their sentiments implicitly ratify and amplify the “in sickness and in health” of wedding vows, so they would also suit anniversaries. The full text appears online at Litscape.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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